Photo by Shelby Lum

The 30-Day Bikram Binge

I do not believe in Zen.
I do not believe in motivational phrases,
expensive sports bras or bottled water.
I do not believe in paying to work out
(beyond the cost of a good pair of shoes) or the willing subjection to overwhelming heat. Above all else, I certainly do not believe in letting groups of strangers see my stomach.

But for 90 minutes every day for a month, I engaged in all these things as part of a daily Bikram experiment. The result: one of the most transformative experiences of my post-college life. I had not yet earned the sinewy muscles featured in yoga advertisements, but I felt more athletic. I was not in a constant dreamlike state of yoga-induced nirvana, but I was less distracted by small annoyances that were out of my control. I even began bottling water.

I found, after the Bikram binge, that I do believe in the power of routine.

So does Rebecca Hoffman, owner of Bikram Hot Yoga Columbus – the only Bikram-certified studio in Columbus.

“The same sequence of postures every time, the discipline and the incredibly cathartic release that the intense heat helps you achieve were what attracted and kept me devoted to the Bikram method,” Hoffman said. “I found Bikram yoga during a very hard time in my life. Almost immediately, it made me feel fabulous physically, helped me work through emotional challenges and reawakened me spiritually.

“I fell in love with myself and life again. Now I get to share this miraculous yoga with new people everyday. I feel very blessed.”

One of the ways she shares this yoga is through a 30-day introductory package, which is how I came to binge on Bikram.  For the price of three classes, you can go as many times as you want for a month. (That’s a $1.50 per class if you go every day!)

It was around Day 28 that I felt the depth of the commitment I had made to this practice – an understanding of my control over my body and my willpower that I would not have experienced had I stopped after Class Three.

The Bikram class was especially beneficial for showing skeptics how much change can happen in 30 days. Or 13 days. Or even three. The practice revolves around the idea that your body is new every day, and I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t see it during the binge.

Bikram, for those unfamiliar with the seemingly masochistic yoga practiced in 105-degree heat, follows the same script with boot-camp accuracy. Students perform the same 26 postures in the same order … every … single … time. So I wasn’t just taking up a new activity for a month, I was taking up the same series of motions. Whereas it might be easy to overlook small improvements when you start a new diet or exercise, in Bikram you notice the small steps of progress.

My first noticeable success happened on Day Three, when I was able to balance my foot on my thigh during the “tree pose.” On Day Seven, I was able to add the squat into that posture, transitioning from tree pose to “toe stand.” Twenty days later, I could squat in toe stand without resting my fingertips on the floor.

Day 12 was when I realized the back pain I had been experiencing for months had disappeared.

On Day 19, a friend told me I seemed more “centered.” On Day 25, I held my balance while in “standing bow pose” for the full 30 seconds.

But one of the most incredible achievements was not physical. It happened on Day 13, when I stopped fighting the blinding heat (because sweat gets in your eyes) and went to class in just a sports bra. The sessions had not transformed my body that dramatically, but they helped me feel dramatically more comfortable in it.

Bikram made me feel like I can do more with my body, and that made me proud of my shape. I think it had something to do with one instructor’s motivational phrase I came to love (even though I had sworn off motivational phrases): “You are in control of you. If you can, you must.”

When you see the variety of bodies in the room stretching, literally, to new heights, it is impossible not to be inspired. No matter their shape, age, background or proclivity for yoga attire, Bikram students are those who take control of their bodies. And in 30 days, you will be changed.